How to Use Summer to Lazily Gather PBL Project Ideas for Next Year

Now that you have found simple ways to integrate reflection into your day from my last 3 posts(the importance of reflection, the 5-5-5 rule, and the power of positive thinking), and you are capitalizing on those practices to help you rejuvenate, it’s time to think about riding that reflection-rejuvenation wave into a relaxing summer!

Time away from the classroom is often the greatest gift for project planning.


This summer you can capture some great “outside the box” project ideas, with not much effort and ZERO planning. That’s right, all you have to do is open your mind and eyes to the world of project potential around you. Capture your answers to the following questions in a notebook or simply on the Notes app on your phone to set you up for an authentic project. While the Notes app is certainly more convenient and great for when an idea strikes you, I have found there’s something special about having a set notebook for a specific purpose; it’s nice to have everything organized in a tangible place that you can put away when it isn’t relevant and have it all conveniently in front of you when need be. Come back to this bank of project ideas when you are back to school and save yourself the most difficult part of the project planning process: knowing where to start!

Questions to ask yourself while on summer vacation:

  • What do people do outside of the school walls? (think industries, visitors, children, and even animals, nature too!)
  • What problems do you see in your community? (think traffic, trash, poverty, graffiti, etc.)
  • What are people interested in/attracted to? (think what do people visit/see/experience)

Being a PBL nerd, I can’t help but see project ideas EVERYWHERE I go! To be honest, I’m the worst on vacation because my mind is clear from “the grind” and my creative juices are free and swarming with PBL ideas…it drives my family nuts! Sometimes it’s hard to think of new or innovative classroom solutions when your schedule is already jam-packed with what has to be done. While summer vacation is usually the easiest time for a clear mind, I do think it’s valuable to give my mind a breather whenever possible. It opens us up to a strike of creative lightning and keeps the passion for teaching alive.

Here are my favorite places to find project ideas without even trying:

  • While on vacation, I pay attention to everything. That means taking note of various transportation methods, recognizing places of interest, and identifying natural resources specific to geographic locations. The more I’m aware of my surroundings, the more I can see potential ways to connect the outside world to the classroom. I share my daily ideas on my Instagram page; check out this post on teaching about plastic pollution.
  • At restaurants or driving through downtown, I get ideas for places to curate work in the community.
  • At any sort of appointment, I think about what people [“experts”] do outside of school walls…you know, in the “real world.” 😉 There’s always potential here for a project centered around students being the experts or some type of problem-solving endeavor.
  • If I go to an amusement park or community point of interest with my kids, I pay attention to what they engage with and/or potential “problems” to be solved. Check out this post from when inspiration struck while on a trip at Sea World.
  • I try to think about my community as if I were a tourist. What attractions would they want to see? What would need to be fixed to improve things? What would make me come back again?
  • When I’m on a walk or just hanging out at the beach, I find that being unplugged and being out in nature shifts my thinking. What kinds of things are going on? Again, are there problems to be solved?

I promise, once you start thinking like a project designer, you won’t be able to turn it off! It becomes inspiring and exciting and will fill you up to come back to school with a “full tank.”

A Deeper Learning Example

For a topic that covers everything from electromagnetism and energy transfer to shark populations and engineering, here is the layout for a project culminating in a group of students working together to create a presentation for a public audience.

Group Task:

Working together, each group of students will create a public service announcement for recreational ocean users. This announcement should be a few minutes long and answer several key questions:

  • In the case of shark attacks that stem from mistaken identity, what factors are at play?
  • When interacting with sharks, how do electronic devices, motors, and electromagnetic fields play a part?
  • With this knowledge in mind, how can we help their species, while also helping humans’ safety and perception of sharks?

The project can also include each group making proposals for shark repellent devices based on electric fields.

Individual Task:

Each student will write an article with the intention of submitting it to a local publication. Students will have two main focuses for this article. The first is to inform the public of what they’ve learned about sharks through the lesson and help to demystify the behavior of sharks. The second goal of this article is to make a clear call to action that aligns with the group PSA.

For more information, you can download this full project by clicking here.

How this Project can Inspire You:

You may be wondering how this very specific example could give you your own project based learning ideas. Well, let’s start with the topic itself: sharks and shark behavior. While on a trip to the beach, sharks can easily cross one’s mind. This connects back to always paying attention to your surroundings. Conversely, maybe there was a recent headline about a shark attack that spurred a train of thought on why sharks attack and being curious about their behavior. This might be an example of one of those problems you see in your community, or maybe it’s simply about incorporating current news and events into lesson plans. No matter how you get there, you can see that the pathway to a great idea isn’t always obvious. Be sure to always stay aware of what’s happening around you and in your community because you never know when a great idea might strike. That being said, we know how difficult it can be to create a curriculum, and that’s why CraftED Curriculum is here to help. Check out our Project Based Learning Curriculum Design page to find out how we can help serve your goals.

In addition to coming up with original and relevant project topics, you can also use this project example as a guide for other topics as well. A public service announcement would be an engaging project to use for a wide variety of topics. Rather than just a generic presentation, a PSA would allow students to present what they’ve learned with a specific purpose. Not only that, but it would engage students by having them create something with a real-world counterpart. You can show students examples of other successful PSAs to help students create an effective message. Not only does this type of presentation ask students to display their knowledge and then convey it as experts, but it also calls on them to be persuasive and effectively convey their point in a succinct manner that would impact others. PSAs are just one example of incorporating a real-world scenario into a project based learning lesson plan. The individual assignment of writing an article for a publication is another example that can be adapted depending on the topic. Other possible projects include: writing a letter to a politician, producing a class book, conducting an interview or staging an interview with one of the students as the expert, creating a visual display for a museum with relevant information, creating posters or brochures for an organization, writing a how-to guide, designing a game board, and producing a video or play. Every single one of these ideas could easily be incorporated into the lesson on sharks and electromagnetic fields above, but more importantly, they can also easily be customized to fit whatever topic you happen to be covering. Once again, the trick is to stay aware of what’s happening around you and be ready for inspiration whenever it may strike.

If you’re still struggling with incorporating PBL into your classroom, CraftEd Curriculum offers a variety of resources to suit whatever your needs may be. Whether it’s workshops, online courses, or physical books, we’ve got you covered and are ready to help you take your classroom to the next level.

Still hungering for even MORE project ideas? In August, I share 30 Days of PBL Project Ideas on my social media. Sign up for my newsletter to be reminded before it starts!